AUGUSTA — It’s not yet clear where the next Augusta Police station will be located, but architects made it clear renovating the current deteriorating station wouldn’t make much sense.

Evidence of roof leaks that have since been fixed can be seen during a tour of the Augusta Police Station on Aug. 21 in Augusta. Kennebec Journal file photo by Joe Phelan

Ellen Angel, co-owner of Artifex Architects and Engineers, a firm hired to assist the city in designing its next police station, said her firm’s analysis of the current station on Union Street confirmed what some city officials already suspected. The building has significant problems, including a deteriorating exterior that has reached the end of its life expectancy, a leaky roof, inadequate ventilation, undrinkable water, windows that are failing and a lack of security. It also has numerous areas that wouldn’t meet modern building codes, including a requirement the building meet specific “Category 4” codes required of essential public safety buildings.

The problems with the 1940s-era, former Navy Reserve building next to the Kennebec Valley YMCA property could take up to $12.7 million to address.

Even after making all those improvements to the old building, Rob Manns, vice president of Manns Woodward Studios — a Maryland firm that specializes in public safety buildings — told city councilors last week that the city would likely only get another 20 or 25 years out of it. A new structure would be expected to last 50 years or more, for a price likely to be about the same.

“This building, from our assessment, would have to meet all the requirements of the new code. Once you have to do that, there are so many parts of it that wouldn’t meet it, you’d have to rebuild portions of the building. And then the costs get horrifically expensive,” Angel said. “The basic systems of the existing building can’t comply without reconstruction. The wood structure itself, the roof structure, will not work. We would probably have wall structural issues. We just know the cost of making this a Category 4 building will be more than the cost of a new building.”

Ralph St. Pierre, finance director and assistant city manager for the city, said staff searched the city for potential spots for a police station. He said they are concentrating on two: the existing Union Street site next to the current station or a downtown property on the corner of Water and Laurel streets, where a large former mill warehouse sits. The latter is in deteriorating condition on what is generally considered the most run-down section of downtown Water Street.

Downtown advocates have asked city officials to consider locating the station downtown. They said having the station there could help improve the area in part by bringing a police presence and removing or refurbishing a blighted building.

A downtown building would likely be a more expensive project because the city does not own the property proposed for its location. That means it would have to acquire it and would also have to either demolish the building or renovate it extensively. The city owns the current police station property and parking lots surrounding it where the new station could be built.

Mayor David Rollins said councilors will need to decide where the new station should go.

“One is the cheapest, most cost effective manner we could put a building up,” he said. “The other … is on a spot that impacts the community in peripheral ways that answer many more issues than just a new police station. It’s not apples to apples.

“It’s where do we want to go and what do we want to invest in,” Rollins added. “Do we cost engineer this down to the lowest common denominator of space and money? Or do we invest in our community in a location that may end up being more costly in terms of dollars spent on the project but may be more impactful in terms of return on the quality of life in Augusta? That’s a real decision.”

Manns said architects met with police for two days to establish the department’s facility needs and how much square footage would be required to meet them. Among the spaces discussed for the station were training rooms, interview and interrogation areas, locker rooms, public areas and a fitness center.

At-Large Councilor Corey Wilson expressed concern there seemed to be more interview rooms than necessary. He also suggested the department may not need a fitness center, especially if the department remains on its existing site next to the YMCA.

“I’d say we could save a large amount of square footage and utilize space at the YMCA, which has a nice fitness center,” Wilson said Thursday. “I understand we want a lot of nice things, but that seems like a good chunk of square footage.

“I just think there are more things that could possibly be trimmed from this,” he added. “We have to get this number down; $13 million is a lot of money.”

Angel said the proposed amount of square footage for the new building is significantly less than what is in the existing building.

City Manager William Bridgeo said councilors will have a chance to discuss the various elements of the new building before the design of the proposed new station is so far along it would be hard to make changes. He said they’ll be able to talk about whether those elements are needed or just desired with architects and police.

St. Pierre said the goal is to have two preliminary designs, including projected costs, for a police station at the existing property and the downtown site before the end of June. That way councilors can consider and make a decision in time for a proposal to borrow money to go to voters in a referendum in November.


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